Matthew 17:24-18:9 (ESV)
24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” 18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Jesus and his disciples arrived at Capernaum, and the Jewish temple tax collectors approached Peter, asking why Jesus hadn’t paid the temple tax yet. Apparently, the collectors thought Peter handled the everyday affairs of Jesus, the rabbi. According to their custom, all Jewish men twenty years and older (except the priests) were required to pay a didrachma, or half a shekel, annually for the upkeep of the temple. Peter let them know that Jesus would pay the tax and did not intend to break the customary law. Even before Peter talked to Jesus or mentioned a word about this, Jesus asked Peter a question: “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” Peter responded with “others.” Jesus added that the sons of the kings would not be required to pay kingdom taxes (v. 26). Jesus let Peter know that since he was the King, he should not be required to pay temple taxes. In addition, the disciples shouldn’t have to pay taxes either. They were like the sons of the kingdom, who held positions of honor. If Jesus paid the tax, he would look like an outsider rather than the rightful ruler. But if he didn’t pay it, people might think he didn’t support the temple.
Jesus solved the dilemma perfectly. He told Peter, the fisherman, to catch a fish and open its mouth. There, he would find a coin to pay both his and Jesus’ tax. Jesus wouldn’t have to pay from his own money as an outsider, and he wouldn’t have to stumble or offend anyone (v. 27). So although Jesus technically wasn’t required to pay the tax, he did so to avoid perplexing the tax collectors and others around him. It’s easy to overlook how careful Jesus was to stand up for the truth of the gospel, yet at the same time refrain from unnecessarily confusing anyone. Jesus never compromised God’s law or principles, and at the same time, he spoke and acted with wisdom, sensitive to how others would receive his message. Let’s seek to be just like him. Let’s rejoice in the great liberty we have as a result of being in Christ, and at the same time, let’s be careful not to stumble those around us. Let’s always be willing to limit our liberty because of our love for people.